Efforts are underway to block a PA bid to register Church of Nativity in Bethlehem under country of Palestine.
Israel is working to block a bid by the Palestinian Authority to register the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem under the country of Palestine, when the World Heritage Committee meets in Russia from June 24 to July 6.
Earlier this month the committee announced that the church, as well as the nearby pilgrimage route, is among 36 sites which it plans to debate during that meeting. The debate marks the first time that the committee has considered registering a World Heritage site under Palestine.
The UN has not recognized Palestine as a state. But as a result of the October vote, Palestine has full state rights in all UNESCO bodies, including the right to register sites on the World Heritage List.
As soon as its signature with the UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage was ratified in March, the PA asked the World Heritage Committee to register the church and the pilgrimage route in Bethlehem under Palestine. It made it onto the list under an emergency provision for endangered sites.
Earlier this month, UNESCO announced the inclusion of the Church of the Nativity on its list of 36 potential sites. It noted that this was a first for Palestine.
It did not mention that its International Council on Monuments and Sites, which evaluates each application, had recommended that for technical reasons the World Heritage Committee reject the PA’s application at this time.
“ICOMOS does not consider that the property can be considered to have been severely damaged or to be under imminent threat,” it said in a report, which can be found on the UNESCO web site.
It added that no immediate action could by taken by the World Heritage Committee “that is necessary for the survival of the property.” It advised the PA to resubmit its application under the normal assessment process.
“This could provide the opportunity for a full assessment of the needs of the property in terms of protection, conservation and management,” it said.
The decision with regard to placing the Church of the Nativity on the World Heritage List will be made by the committee, which is composed of 21 countries. Committee members include Algeria, Cambodia, Colombia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Germany, India, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
An Israeli official said that the Church was worthy of inclusion on the World Heritage List, but that the PA had politicized the cultural and historical issues at play.
Israel, the official said, opposes all Palestinian endeavors to unilaterally act as a state in advance of negotiating a final-status agreement for a two state solution. Such steps, he said, harm the peace process and the possibility of a two state solution that ends the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
But a Palestinian official said that Palestine was already a state and that all UNESCO has now done is recognize that fact. He added that his country had a right to act as all other countries in front of UNESCO by registering important sites that fall within its jurisdiction.
The official said that in spite of ICOMOS’s conclusion, his government believed that the church was endangered.
In its report to the committee, the PA said, “the combined effects of the consequences of the Israeli occupation and the lack of scientific and technical measures for restoring and preserving the property are creating an emergency situation that should be addressed by an emergency measure.”
The issue of the church is only one of a number of ways in which the Israeli- Palestinian conflict will be part of the World Heritage Committee meeting.
It will hear a report on the protection of the Palestinian cultural and natural heritage. It will also debate issues relating to the Old City of Jerusalem which is registered under Jordan, and which is considered an endangered site. Israel expects that UNESCO will pass a resolution condemning Israeli treatment of the site.
The committee will also debate registering the site of human evolution at the base of Mt. Carmel in Israel.